I am a journalist. Those who know me or regularly read my writing know that I have to be up to speed on everything going on in the world. I'm not a journalist by accident. I used to blame it on heredity – I come from a family of journalists –, but the truth is, I just 'gotta know'. Gotta dig, tell, spread the news.
I am a journalist, and thus over-informed. Current events; that's my life. Even when I don't know the details of an event, I know something. I know something about everything. It's my job.
Because I am super-informed, when I read a book, when I watch a tv series, when I watch a film, it's to step outside of my own cloistered world and enter another. Nothing surprising, then, about the fact that I am a Star Wars fan or that I read more easily in English than French (I live in French, so I trade-off with reading in English). I love tv detective series, even though they deal with the grungy, sordid side of life (I am not naive, I know that murders, rapes and kidnappings really do happen), but the bad guys are punished and the innocent are set free.
I don't read autofiction (Editor's Note: a genre of writing that combines fiction and autobiography), I never watch 'social cause' movies or films that mirror real life. In short, I don't need anyone to show me what life is, I need to evade it.
WOUNDED AND STRENGHTENED
Still and yet, I went to see Precious (which came out in France yesterday). I read the book Push when it was released in 1996. At the time I was not a journalist, I still read serious books and went (often) to see deep, serious movies. I would have never imagined that someone would risk bringing this incredible novel to the big screen. I just had to see the result. And as with the book, I left the theatre shattered and (hopefully) wiser.
Push is a huge punch in the face, really. The first time you read it, and the second time too. You gotta really get into it to effectively decipher what Precious really wants to say and to be able to deal with what she is living through. But the takeaway after you finish the book isn't violence, it's hope.
A BOOK THAT YOU JUST CAN'T ADAPT
Push is an unadaptable book. Precious could only be 'less': less strong, less violent, less touching, less beautiful, less hopeful. But that fact doesn't make the film any less excellent. The producer, Lee Daniels, who is openly gay, did the best he could with such a book. François Truffaut had this to say about screen adaptations: "Betrayal of the letter or of the spirit is tolerable if the filmmaker interests himself in on or the other and if he succeeds in doing 1) the same thing; 2) the same thing, but better; 3) something else, but better. Not admissible are dulling down, shrinking down or sweetening down". Lee Daniels didn't do either. He neither dulled, shrunk, nor sweetened. He did the best that could be done. Some books just aren't adaptable to film, but at least some attempt the impossible and emerge unscathed. And since cinema is more accessible than litterature, Precious will reach a larger audience than Push could have. One compelling reason to admire Lee Daniels.
But it's not the only reason. Not very long ago, I wrote about Valentine 's Day and its extraordinary casting. Here as well the casting is extraordinary, but not just for its roster of superstars – the acting was excellent. To be sure, the movie counts Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz (in a role written especially for him), Mo'Nique, and the comedian Sherri Shepherd (The View, 3rd Rock), who will be one of the three hosts of the Red Carpet for the upcoming Oscars. The press is giddy over Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and Mo'Nique (Mary, the mother), absolute relevations who, if Hollywood is just a tad fair, should finish the Oscar weekend with an armful of statues. While we wish Gabourey Sidibe a long and prosperous career, it bears mentioning that there aren't many roles out there for an obese black woman. Finally, one last up and comer to keep your eye on: Paula Patton, who interprets a very luminous Blu Rain, the (lesbian) professor who helps Precious find her place in the world.
THE LITTLE THINGS
Lee Daniels also succeeded in slipping in little details that ended up being the discernable 'oomph' behind Push. For example, phonetic writing, which is impossible to convey orally, that you find in the opening sequence of the movie. And the daydream scenes, when Precious can't deal with reality and flees into a parallel universe where she is the star – loved, and well-treated.
It will take a long time to digest Precious, to find the hope that grew out of the book but has a harder time breaking through on the big screen, behind all the pain contained therein. But if Precious can break through it, so can her viewers.
Sapphire on casting Gabourey Sidibe: